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The Best Mountain Bike Helmets on the Market Today

Whether you're looking for style or protection (or hopefully, both) the mountain bike helmets of today have you covered.

collage of three mountain biking helmets
Courtesy

Do you remember the clunky, heavy, unappealing helmets of yesteryear? Helmets used to be bulky, cumbersome "Do I have to wear it??" additions to any cycling kit, but anyone that's ridden dirt knows that a protective lid, no matter how dorky or unappealing, is non-negotiable if you want to rip trails.

Lucky for you, me and anyone riding a mountain bike these days, cycling brands have pushed the proverbial envelope when it comes to both the aesthetic and functional aspects of mountain bike helmets. The designs of today look downright cool, which is really just a bonus in our book, but they also perform and protect better than their predecessors, as well.

If you're in the market for a new helmet and don't know where to start, don't worry: we've got ya covered.

What to look for in a mountain bike helmet

Safety Certifications

In the United States, it's a federal requirement that every helmet sold is U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) certified. Mountain bike helmets use the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), Snell and the CPSC safety standard certifications, and although only the CPSC is required, all are available to prove that the helmet in question is safe and effective.

Tangentially related to safety certifications are safety technologies — most riders will recognize the name MIPS, or Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, which is designed to reduce and redirect rotational motion from angular impacts. Wavecel is a similar technology: the company's website describes it as behaving "like a network of hundreds of interconnected shock absorbers connecting your head and the outer shell of the helmet", redirecting rotational forces.

Materials

Common and critical materials to keep an eye out for when shopping for a mountain bike helmet include an EPS (Expanded polystyrene) liner, a crushable, protective foam; look for shells made with polycarbonate plastic or carbon fiber, which are premium protective materials; and keep an eye out for mention of antimicrobial liners and adjustable padding, which will minimize odor and maximize cleanliness.

When should I replace my mountain bike helmet?

The short answer: after one impact. After a fall, your helmet may look fine, but it's impossible to tell if the protective foam inside have been compromised. Bike helmets, including mountain bike styles, are designed to protect the rider's head from one serious impact — that's it. If the foam is damaged, it won't protect your head upon a subsequent serious impact.

How We Tested

mountain bike helmets
The best mountain bike helmets combine superior fit and elevated comfort — and don’t look half bad, either.
Hayley Helms
mountain bike helmet guide
The squad.
Hayley Helms

We tested a variety of mountain bike helmets, including full-face and open-face models, in a variety of conditions. We took them bikepacking on Catalina Island, raced down trails in Southern California and rode on groomed fire roads up and down the West Coast. As we tested each lid, we focused on a few key factors: breathability, comfort, weight and protective tech. Thankfully none of these helmets were crash-tested by our crew, but each has undergone scrutinous testing during development. After testing a wide swath of current models, we landed on our top picks.

Giro Manifest Spherical Helmet

Best Overall Helmet
Giro Manifest Spherical
backcountry.com
$259.95

  • Best fitting, and felt the most secure on variable terrain

  • Price tag is steep
  • Weight: 11.9 ounces
  • MIPS: Spherical Technology
  • Vents: 19

    Manifest your dream ride with Giro's everyday open-face helmet. The Manifest Spherical is our top pick for a few notable reasons: extensive Wind Tunnel venting kept my head cool on long rides, and combined with Giro's AURA reinforcing arch, felt like the air conditioning was turned on high the whole ride. The Manifest Spherical's name alludes to its built-in Spherical Technology protection — developed alongside MIPS — which Giro claims is the market-leading brain protection system that helps to reduce rotational forces. (Luckily for us, we didn't put this claim to the test with any gnarly crashes.)

    The padding that lines the helmet is both antimicrobial and plush, a one-two punch of comfort and cleanliness. At just under 12 ounces, the Manifest is the lightest helmet on our list by a long shot, and thanks to the wide interior, provides the best field of vision, as well. Yes, we know the helmet is almost $300, but if you're willing to invest upfront, the extra dollars will pay dividends in the long run.

        Fox Racing Proframe Matte Helmet

        Best Upgrade Helmet
        Fox Racing Proframe Matte Helmet
        foxracing.com
        $269.95

        • Front vents allowed for tons of airflow on trails

        • Compared with POC's full face helmet, this felt a little too minimal
        • Weight: 26.4 ounces
        • MIPS: Yes
        • Vents: 24

          Fox's brand-new Proframe Helmet caught my eye immediately upon opening its packaging — the large cutouts in the chin bar of the helmet allow for the most airflow I've experienced in a full-face helmet. At just 26.4 ounces, the Proframe is all killer, no filler: it's been engineered to provide serious protection, at a fraction of the weight.

          Aesthetically, I've worn other helmets with cleaner lines and looks, but the Proframe's unique design proved to be a conversation starter every time I wore it. The fit was a little loose — I'm a Medium in all helmet brands, but Fox's top-tier model felt roomy. However, once I installed the additional padding that comes with the helmet, the fit was just right. Airflow was a major plus for this lid, and as I rode the trails near my house, I almost forgot I was wearing a helmet at all.

              Smith Mainline

              Best Looking Full Face Helmet
              Smith Mainline
              smithoptics.com
              $210.00
              $155.00 (26% off)

              • Bright colorway stands out on the trail and adds safety and style to your ride

              • Can feel a little heavy after a long day of riding
              • Weight: 27 ounces
              • MIPS: Yes
              • Vents: 21

                It's polished, it's protective and it fits like a glove. Smith's Mainline is the best-looking full-face helmet on this list, and fits well, too. The Mainline is sturdy without being bulky and had just the right amount of cushion to give our tester a protected feeling, without going overboard. Compared to the ultra-light Fox Proframe, the Mainline is only .6 ounces heavier, but our tester definitely felt a little bulkier in Smith's full-face option. The bright orange colorway turns heads in a good way: it's fun and fresh, and also optimizes safety on low-visibility trails.

                The Mainline was designed to integrate seamlessly with Smith's performance goggles and includes three washable cheek pad kits, two crown liners and two neck rolls so that you can dial in your fit just to your liking.

                    POC Tectal Race Mips NFC

                    Best For Long Days in the Saddle
                    POC Tectal Race Mips NFC
                    pocsports.com
                    $240.00

                    • Comfortable and protective fit that doesn't feel like it's squeezing your brain

                    • Requires on-the-go adjustment
                    • Weight: 12.87 ounces
                    • MIPS: Yes, MIPS Integra
                    • Vents: 13

                      Our tester has primarily worn the Tectal Race MIPS NFC on bikepacking trips and was impressed each time with POC's ability to dial in fit in its helmets, as well as the feeling of security provided through the embedded safety tech. Although the Tectal Race MIPS NFC does loosen up after long stretches of washboard fire roads, our tester found that one-handed adjustments are easy to pull off, without having to stop or dismount the bike.

                      Despite the occasional loosening, this helmet is top-tier when it comes to safety features: it's outfitted with a Recco reflector to increase visibility, has extended protection zones with aramid reinforcements for extra structural stability and crash protection and comes with a twICEme NFC Medical ID Chip, which allows you to store vital medical information directly in the helmet, so it can be read by first responders at the scene of an accident.

                          POC Coron Air Mips

                          Most Dependable Full Face Helmet
                          POC Coron Air Mips
                          pocsports.com
                          $300.00

                          • Specially constructed ear chambers ease impact on balance and hearing

                          • Runs a little small
                          • Weight: 38.9 ounces
                          • MIPS: Yes
                          • Vents: 12

                            It may not be as flashy as the Smith Mainline we reviewed for this guide, but POC's full-face helmet is the dependable, easy-to-wear helmet you'll want to wear day in and day out. I've ridden in the helmet for a few years now, and although I've taken the occasional spill — and despite the fact that the helmet is white, which basically attracts dirt — the lid looks brand-new.

                            If you have any sort of hearing issue, the POC Coron Air MIPS helps to mitigate the negative effects on hearing (and balance) that a full-face helmet can have; specially-formed ear chambers and thoughtfully-placed padding prioritize comfort and auditory perception. Additionally, if you have a kid that's big enough to fit into adult helmets, this is the one we decided to put on our little ripper. Its fiberglass shell and multi-impact EPP liner provide enough protection for peace of mind, but the minimal weight allows them to keep their balance. If you're looking for a dependable, safe full-face helmet for all-day riding, this is the one I'd buy every time.

                                Specialized Ambush 2

                                Most Unique Open Face Helmet
                                Specialized Ambush 2
                                $180.00

                                • Redesigned for better fit and function

                                • Fixed visor can be annoying in certain light conditions
                                • Weight: 12.7 ounces
                                • MIPS: Yes
                                • Vents: 18

                                  Specialized has made a name for itself in the cycling industry due to its attention to detail and quality standards, and its redesigned Ambush 2 helmet continues to carry that torch. Although I think the fixed visor was an odd choice, the rest of the helmet is chock-full of performance attributes that make it a pleasure to wear while ripping single track or bombing hills.

                                  The increased ventilation and improved fit work hand-in-hand to keep airflow high and discomfort low, and the MIPS certification brings peace of mind to every ride. The Ambush 2's innovative sunglass storage with hidden rubber flaps made it easy for me to store my sunnies on the go, and the overall lightweight design made it easy to forget I was wearing a helmet in the first place.

                                      Smith Session

                                      Best Wallet-Friendly Helmet
                                      Smith Session
                                      $170.00

                                      • Plenty of tech for an approachable price

                                      • Feels too minimal if you're used to a full-face helmet
                                      • Weight: 13.4 ounces
                                      • MIPS: Yes
                                      • Vents: 15

                                        A helmet is worth investing in — after all, you only get one brain in this life, so it's probably worth at least a few hundred bucks, right?

                                        That being said, if you're looking for a starter helmet that won't break the bank, but does come with top-of-the-foodchain tech, the Session is an ideal choice for riders that want to stay below $200 when shopping for a lid. The Session is feature-rich and incorporates MIPS protection, large vents and internal air channels, an adjustable visor and an antimicrobial lining into its minimal 13.4-ounce frame. Our tester appreciated the venting and seamless Smith eyewear integration on hot, dusty rides in Southern California, and although she likes a full-face for downhill rides, still felt safe and secure in the Session.

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